Sermon, Misericordias Domini,the Second Sunday after Easter, 2015, Gospel,John 10:11-16
“People are sheep; they’re a face in the crowd that no one can see. I hate to be the one to say it, but someone had to break the news. Do you want to stand out? Then stop being a sheep!” So began an article on a website called WikiHow to do anything. The authors helpfully laid out a set of ten new commandments to help a person avoid becoming a conformist sheep. Step one: Realize you don’t have to fit in. Step Two: Show your true colors. Step Three: Be who you want to be. “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.” Step four: Do what you want. Be free. “Do whatever you want, just so long as you don’t hurt anyone.” Step five: Stop caring about what people think. Six: Listen to whatever music you like. Number seven: Dress how you want. Buy for you and only you, because only you know who you are! Eight: Forget about stereotypes: Stereotypes dilute the lake of being yourself-ness. Nine: Be weird. And step ten, from which all the other commandments spring: Love yourself.
The voice of our times has spoken! And what a lonely voice it is. A voice crying in a wilderness of mirrors. Make way a path for yourself. “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.” “Only you know who you are.” The most important thing in life is following your dream. Like a song I used to sing to my older daughters when they were younger and were acting self centered, “It’s all about me, me, me. It’s not about you, you, you!”
We hear a different story in today’s sermon text. Jesus says, I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, (John 10:14) We are not the only ones who know who we are. Jesus knows who we are, in fact He knows us as we truly are. And only in Him can we know who we truly are. He speaks to us in a clear voice in Holy Scripture, where the Law, the Ten Commandments, a true mirror, shows us our sins, shows us as rebellious, straying sheep. Then the Gospel, points us to the Good Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, who
laid down His life for you and me, and took it up again for you and me, and has gathered us into His fold. In Jesus’ day, a sheep fold was an enclosure for the sheep with rock walls, where the sheep and the shepherd could be safe from predators. Jesus brings us into His fold, where we are kept safe from the devil, who like a prowling lion, goes about seeking someone to devour. The fold is a place of rest and safety, a sanctuary.
In this fold no one can snatch us out of the shepherd’s hand, not the devil or anything in the world. But willful and rebellious sheep can jump over the walls, can look for greener grass on the other side of the fence. There is a story about such a willful sheep in this conversation by Dr. Andrew Bonar with Dwight Moody. Dr. Bonar said that in the Highlands of Scotland, “sheep would often wander off into the rocks and get into places that they couldn’t get out of. The grass on these mountains is very sweet and the sheep like it, and they will jump down ten or twelve feet, and then they can’t jump back again, and the shepherd hears them bleating in distress. They may be there for days, until they have eaten all the grass. The shepherd will wait until they are so faint they cannot stand, and then he will put a rope around him, and he will go over and pull that sheep up out of the jaws of death. “Why don’t they go down there when the sheep first gets there?” Rev. Moody asked. “Ah!” He said, “they are so very foolish they would dash right over the precipice and be killed if they did!” And that is the way with people; if they stray from God they won’t turn back till they have no friends and have lost everything. Dr. Bonar finished his story by saying, “If you are a wanderer I tell you that the Good Shepherd will bring you back the moment you have given up trying to save yourself and are willing to let Him save you His own way.”
We know this is how it works with many people who struggle with physical or emotional addictions. Many times they must hit rock bottom before they realize that they can’t get out on their own, they can’t save themselves.
Even we, too, have to hit rock bottom,in a sense, even though we may not suffer from outward addictions to alcohol, drugs, sex, or gambling. The corruption of sin which clings to all of us is like an addiction that we are recovering from every day of our lives. When we look into the mirror of God’s law we can see how far we’ve fallen, if not in deed, in thought, if not in what we have done, in what we have left undone. So when we make our confession of sins we are not putting on false humility, we are calling out from the rocky bottom of the crevices that we have fallen into, like the sheep in Dr. Bonar’s story. We admit that we are deserve to be left alone for straying from our Shepherd. We have no rope with which to climb out. Our only hope is to cling to faith in the never broken promise of forgiveness for Christ’s sake. We ask the Lord to forgive us, to lift us out of the depths of our sins, and to lead us starving sheep back to the fold, to be fed with the Word and with the true food of eternal life, the body and blood of His Son in Holy Communion. The Good Shepherd continues to feed and strengthen and protect us with His body and blood each time we return to His table. Each time you and I we return to the fold He feeds us, and when we take communion, He puts into our hands, and our mouths the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation that He won with His body and blood on the cross. It is not some abstract, idealized food. It’s present and real, though supernatural, above the laws of nature. “Take eat, this is my body which is given for you…” For you, the key words. The whole Christ, the whole Good Shepherd, for you and for me, me, me.
Jesus was sent to the lost sheep of Israel, those who had strayed from the fold of God’s promises to Abraham. But He also came for those who were not of the fold of Israel, for the Gentiles as well. He came for the whole world, to bring lost and straying sheep into the fold. And he continues to do it today. Last night I witnessed two adult baptisms, my sister-in-law, and her brother. Both were not of the fold, the family of God, but were brought to it through hearing the Word of God in church with their husband and boyfriend, who were of the fold. This is one of the ways the Good Shepherd brings sheep into the fold, and this is also a way the Good Shepherd brings back straying sheep, through the urging and encouragement of family and friends. We can do this, too, with our families and friends. Do we have children and grandchildren who once were fed regularly in our fold, but rarely anymore? Let us urge and encourage them to join us to hear what they can only hear in the fold, and eat what they can only eat in the fold. Let us invite our children and grandchildren to participate in our Sunday school so that they may be comforted by the rod and staff of the Lord and dwell in His house, the fold of the Lord forever.
We were brought into this fold through the still waters of Baptism. And God helps us to stay in the fold through the daily remembering of our Baptisms, as Luther suggested. I would like to read the words of the beautiful baptismal hymn, “I am Baptized Into Christ.
“ I am baptized into Christ! He, because I could not pay it, Gave my full redemption price. Do I need earth’s treasures many? I have one worth more than any. Sin, disturb my soul no longer: I am Baptized into Christ! I have comfort even stronger; Jesus’ cleansing sacrifice. Satan hear this proclamation: I am baptized into Christ! Drop your ugly accusation, I am not so soon enticed. Now that to the font I’ve traveled, All your might has come unraveled. Death, you cannot end my gladness: I am baptized into Christ! When I die I leave all sadness to inherit paradise. Open-eyed my grave is staring; Even there I’ll sleep secure. though my flesh awaits its raising, Still my soul continues praising: I am baptized into Christ; I’m a child of paradise!” (LSB 594, God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It).
For the Good Shepherd’s life death and resurrection, which we share with Him in Baptism, was all about His love for, and obedience to His Father, and His great love for you and me, His sheep. May we remain in the fold and stand forever firm in the faith we received at our Baptisms, refreshed and replenished anew every time we eat His life-giving meal, strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit in our faith toward God and in our love toward each other. For Our Shepherd, Jesus Christ, lived, died, and rose again for you, you, you, and me, me, me. Amen✢ Christ is Risen! He is Risen, Indeed! Alleluia!